Fatherless

Rose window example, San Antonio

“Can you tell me anything about your father’s medical history?”

“No. I don’t know him.” He shrugged as if it was no big deal but his voice said otherwise. 

Next patient…. 

“What about your father’s medical history?”

She scrunched up her face. “I think he’s still alive? I don’t know for sure. I never knew him.”

Next patient…

“So your mother is alive and has diabetes. Do you know anything about your father?”

“I’m not in contact with him.” The disdain came across loud and clear in her voice. “I hope he’s dead.”

If fathers ever think they don’t matter, they should sit in my seat and listen to the pain they can generate even when they are not there.

Traveling Through Time

Facade of Mission San Jose in San Antonio
I was not an only child, no matter how hard I prayed for God to take away my siblings. We did not have a lot of money so when we went on vacation all of us were crammed together into tight quarters in the family car. We slept on the floor with family/friends or in sleazy motels (think roaches and cigarette burned coverlets) and survived on McDonalds (you could get a sack of five burgers for five dollars). If we were super lucky, we got to take my grandpa’s motor home and ate hot dogs every day unless it was too wet for a fire, in which case we got spaghetti. 

Oh, there was bickering. Lots and lots of bickering…

Stop poking me!

Mo-ooommmmm! She’s looking at me again!

He’s breathing on me! Make him stop breathing!!!!

My father had a government job and my mother was a stay at home mom. As such, when we went on trips over the summer it was for 2-3 weeks at a time. I travelled all over the US learning things. I don’t think there is a place with educational merit in the continental United States that I have not visited except for things in the state of New York which I was told was “the den of sin and iniquity and the home of  those damn Yankees”. I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty something fierce but as far as my parents were concerned NYC in particular was not worth our time. 

I saw the VLA (Very Large Array) radio telescope years before the movie Contact made it famous. I learned about hydrology from the huge scale mock up of the San Francisco Bay Area complete with working wave maker built in the 1950’s by the Corps of Engineers. I learned about the Civil War at Gettysburg and Texas independence at the Alamo and Washington on the Brazos and fossil dating from Dinosaur Valley and the Petrified Forest. 

There were the obvious places like Yellowstone and Glacier and Mesa Verde. The contrasts of natural and man-made, like the arches in Utah and The Arch in St. Louis. And the obscure, like the Helium monument in Amarillo and what is left of Route 66 (no one cared about that back then).

I have so many good memories of those trips. For all of the bad my parents may or may not have done, they did get one thing right… those family trips. 

Well. Except for New York.

So now, as I am weighing an expensive trip to Disney World with my kids vs a cheap road trip with them somewhere more… interesting, I think about my own childhood. I have the means to make my kids’ dreams come true, if I wanted to, but do I really want to? I never did see Disney World but I think I ended up with something even more magical, an understanding and appreciation of where I came from… my own history and the history of others. That is what I want to pass on. 

So maybe Disney World is better left in our dreams and our imagination?

Checking Out

Thorns of a Mesquite tree

“How is your day?” the cashier asked as he scanned the items one by one in slow motion. He looked to be in his late 20’s. The middle aged woman ahead of me wore a dark pants suit and looked to be in a hurry. It appeared there would be pasta for dinner in her house tonight.

My kids would love spaghetti and meatballs…

“Just fine. You?” She murmured politely as she pulled out her wallet.

“Terrible! It has been a terrible day. I woke up this morning to a text from my parents saying they are raising my rent. How can they do that? Raising the rent?!?!!!?! I live in their house! How DARE they?”

He went on to rant for several minutes about how he was just going to have to find somewhere else else to live and it was not fair. What, were they trying to get him to leave?

The woman stood awkwardly waiting on the receipt. He waved it around for emphasis as he told his story, effectively holding her hostage. Eventually she cleared her throat and held out her hand, offering no sympathy. Finally he handed the paper over. She grabbed the plastic sack and practically ran out of the store.

“How’s your day going?” he asked me as the scanner bleeped my few items.

“Just fine,” I said, stopping there.

Shaving cream.

Toothpaste.

Socks.

Awkward silence.

“I guess they do want me to move out, huh?” He looked crestfallen.

“Yeah. Probably.”

Sharpies

Interior dome at the Vatican
What is it about Sharpies, those black permanent marker, that makes them so attractive to kids?!?!!??!

We have dozens and dozens of regular (washable) markers in every shape, size, and color you could imagine…. including black. But what marker do they just *have* to use? 

The dang Sharpies, for crying out loud.

Is it the smell? That pungent chemical smell that you can get high off of? The satisfyingly wide, dark line it draws? The squeak you get when dragging the tip across some surfaces? Maybe it’s the permanence. The danger.

Well, I sure wish I knew.

Soft Scrub with bleach will take it off of countertops. But old hardwood floors? Bathroom tile grout? Matte finish walls? FABRIC? 

It isn’t that they are going around marking up everything simply to mark it up. It’s just that when you are excitedly drawing a race car onto a giant cardboard box from Amazon, things happen…. And apparently, it is far more fun to be drawing such things on boxes camped out in the bathroom while mom is distracted addressing oncall patient concerns.

I probably don’t beat them enough.

Monochromatic is Problematic

Boy looking out from a bridge at a world of black and white.
I hit print on the office visit summary.

“Doc, where do your kids go to school?” she asked casually.

I told her where and then explained that I was looking for a new place as they were outgrowing their current school. She mentioned where her kids attended, saying I should look into it.

“It’s strong academically and it is a multicultural place: Indian, Muslim, white, black…”

Yes.

That is what I want. I want my kids to grow up understanding other cultures, not being afraid of them. 

I come from a long long of white trash, the kind of people the US government once wanted to keep out. My grandmother was a Polish immigrant. The rest of me is comprised of little bits from all over the world. Read American history. Over the years it has been the Chinese, the Irish, Polish, the Italians, Jews, Mexicans, Japanese, Catholics, among others, who have been feared, blocked, and vilified. They were stealing jobs, destroying the language and culture, threatening Protestantism…. it was always something. Who among any of us can say we do not have any immigrant blood running through our veins? 

It is the height of arrogance. 

We are too good for the likes of you. 

This is what the Third Reich said about Jews and gypsies and homosexuals. Keeping them out was not good enough. No. Why stop there? Kill them all.

We are forgetting, aren’t we? The survivors are dying and their voices are lost. 

So here I am. Just one little voice but I am telling you and everyone who will listen that I cannot be forced to fear or hate and as such, I do NOT support the current immigration ban. It does not make me feel safer. It makes me more afraid. 

Afraid for our future.

Show Off

My son finished his piano solo at the Christmas program. Oh Little Town of Bethleham. He played every note perfectly. I was so dang proud of him! I stopped the video I was taking with my smartphone so I could clap like a crazy woman. I *might* have even shouted, “You are so frickin’ awesome!” 

All of the other kids took a bow or curtsied while the audience clapped politely. My son? He paused right there at center stage, a slow grin spreading across his face. And then? 

He dabbed. 

Yes, the boy dabbed. In the middle of the church auditorium in front of hundreds of people, he dabbed. Dabbing, the weird dance move that appears as if you are sneezing at the same time as you are trying to fly off like a super hero.

People laughed. They screamed. They cried. Some whistled. One woman fainted. Strangers were giving him high fives and knuckles as he sauntered back to his seat. Every single boy that followed after him on stage also dabbed at the end of their performance.

And so I was left wondering how on earth did I end up with a cool kid? I was never that cool. I was so square I couldn’t even dream of being that cool. I am still terribly uncool, even in adulthood. Especially in adulthood….

Salvation is Near!

There is nothing like prying your kids off of each other for the fifteenth time before 10AM to make you question your parenting skills. 

And your sanity.

We are on day five of me at home with my kids. I don’t have anyone reliable to watch them when they are out of school for the holidays (there is entirely too much time off of school nowadays if you ask me 😉) so their father and I split the time. Currently, it is my turn. Tomorrow I get to go back to work for a few days.

Yippie! (You didn’t hear me say that…)

Stay at home moms, I don’t know how you do it day after day, week after week, month after month. Honestly, I am not as strong as you are. I am beginning to think I look pretty sexy in sweats. That’s right. Not to mention the fact that all of the cookies I have baked have snuck off to hide somewhere… I couldn’t possibly have eaten all of them. AND I am talking to rising bread dough as an equal. 

All of this has convinced me that I am a much better parent in smaller doses. I had suspected this, but in the past my kids still napped. 

Now they don’t. 

So. 

I say all of this to say that if you hang with your kids all day every day and still like them and yourself, you have my respect. I send you a virtual fist bump of solidarity. 

Meanwhile, I am going to quietly sneak off to pack my work bag for tomorrow morning so as not to draw the attention of the angry hoards demanding that I fold yet another origami frog.

Woohoo! (You didn’t hear me say that…)

Hovering

Blimp in the sky
My childhood was tightly controlled. Every aspect of my life was minutely scrutinized and managed. 

I was not allowed to ever spend the night at a friend’s house. I went to a friend’s house once in grade school. Only once. My first sanctioned date was to a church to deliver fruit to shut-ins on Halloween night when I was almost 17. The guy who had asked me out was required to participate in a 30 minute interview process prior to being allowed to drive me less than five miles to the church. That interview ran the gamut from current grades, college plans, statement of faith, general health, etc. Physical contact with members of the opposite sex was strictly forbidden, going so far as not allowing me to give a male friend a platonic hug at his graduation. He hugged first. I guess I was supposed to run away screaming. My punishment for that hug back was to write 1,500 times, “I will obey my mother.” I was a junior in high school. My library books were prescreened before I could check them out until I was 18. I was not allowed to learn to drive until I graduated from high school. Dancing, ear piercing, and make-up were against the rules and the Smurfs were not allowed (Gargamel used magic doncha know). 

So when my kids started playing with the neighbor kids, I found myself hovering. It was suddenly necessary to inspect the yard for mushrooms. Rake leaves. Hunt for pecans. Maybe I’ll just wander around looking disinterested while spying on their conversations. 

What am I afraid of?

I’m afraid that my kids will do something offensive, something that will get them labeled as weird or bullied or worse. I am afraid that someone will hurt them, physically or emotionally or sexually.

But I am also afraid that my kids will be judged unfairly because they are *my* kids. That they will be used as pawns in an attempt to get to me. The whole doctor thing. I have been burned before.

Because of the control I experienced as a kid, it is exceedingly difficult to let go of control of my own kids. It is all I know. BUT as I commented to someone yesterday, I am not raising pets. I am trying to grow a couple of independent human beings. 

My kids make jokes about butts and farts and you find that offensive? Maybe it’s your fault for letting your kids play with mine. Your kids are going to pick on my kiddos? My son and daughter are very, very good at karate. You want our kids to make friends so you can say you hang with the doctor? Well fine. I cannot assume everyone has ulterior motives, can I? I will cut you off if necessary. 

So this weekend when they all started playing together again I forced myself to let it go. I went inside and busied myself making homemade marshmallows. I even closed the back door. 

And you know what? They did just fine without me. 

Move Over Childhood…

Trestle bridge through a car window
It happened, folks. 

My son decided that he does not want to wear his PJ’s to go into the donut shop anymore.

“Mom, someone might see me.”

A lump immediately lodged in my throat and has not yet let go. My baby is growing up, entering that self conscious stage where his life will forever be filtered through perceived societal norms. 

Next, he’s going to stop believing in Santa. 

I am not ready for this…

*Please note, I was not driving when I shot that photo and yes, the windshield IS a bit dirty. 

The Knee Jerk

Fall leaves on a tree
“I’m not reading you an extra story tonight.” The extra story happens so regularly it isn’t really *extra* anymore, but I’m not telling him that…

“Why not, mom?” He sounded hurt. 

“Because you’ve been behaving like a jerk.” It slid out of my mouth without even thinking about it.

“Mommy?” There was a tiny catch in his voice. “Why would you say that? I haven’t been a jerk!” A little sob.

“Yes, you have. You’ve been terribly mean.” Now that it was said, I felt the need to justify it so I went on to list his numerous infractions. It took a while… “You were being mean just to be mean. That’s being a jerk.”

Then the tears began to pour and the sobs wracked his body. “Why would you say that? I’m not a jerk. You should apologize! I wasn’t trying to be mean! You don’t know what I was trying to do.”

“OK, then. Why were you doing it?”

“I don’t know.”

He went on to lash out, beg, demand and cajole me into apologizing. It took me aback, his very emotional response to my very matter-of-fact statement. The truth was, though, I didn’t want to apologize. He had behaved awfully and he needed to know it. 

Didn’t he?

Well, didn’t he?

Or was I being the mean one? 

You are behaving like a jerk…

The truth of the matter is that there are times he has made me terribly angry, when I really wanted to be the bully my father was to me growing up. Not that I acted on that feeling, but it would flare up, the anger, and simmer under the surface until it burned itself out. But not this time. I was not trying to hurt him with those words. I didn’t want to belittle him. I just wanted him to know and I wanted him to understand that there are consequences.

But do I want him to do this to someone else, call them a jerk? No. No, I don’t. 

Little words carry so much weight. It is easy to forget how they can wound. I have never said anything like that to him before, never used the term “jerk” in all of his seven years of existence and in his world, at least right now, my opinion matters most. The apology from me was of paramount importance to him. 

So I did.

I apologized.